What Van Persie's celebration was really a reaction to…

In the aftermath of Manchester United’s decisive 1-0 victory over Arsenal on Sunday at Old Trafford, a debate broke out once again over Robin van Persie’s decision to celebrate his goal.

Last term, following the Dutch striker’s £24.5 million transfer from Arsenal to United in the summer, Van Persie scored two goals against his former club, one at Old Trafford and one at the Emirates, and decided not to celebrate.

Even then, some people bemoaned the futility of ‘non-celebration’ of former players who score against their old clubs. It really boils down to, in my estimation, about meaningfulness – whether a player does or does not celebrate, it’s about what it means.

When Van Persie chose not to celebrate last term, the intended meaning was a demonstration of respect and or gratitude to the club, manager, teammate and fans he spent eight years with in North London. Many of the fans that were skeptical about his non-celebration were skeptical precisely because they doubted the validity, integrity and, mostly, the sincerity of his non-celebration.

He left them after his best season in an Arsenal shirt to join one of their domestic rivals and returned to the Emirates as a champion. The way he left and the reasons for his departure were likely what made some fans and commentators doubt his sincerity when he did not celebrate at the Emirates. It’s about what it meant to him and to them.

When Van Persie chose to celebrate his decisive goal at Old Trafford on Sunday, once again, it must be taken in context – context gives every action it’s meaning.

In the context of a disappointing and challenging start to the season under new manager David Moyes – in the context of all and sundry writing the champions off prior to the game and Arsenal leading the league table, then five points clear at the top, after a number of uninspired performances and some unimpressive result, Van Persie’s solitary goal on the day meant something else. It meant something entirely different than his goals last season against the Gunners did.

Last season United ran away with the title and Van Persie was the Golden Boot winner and star of the show grabbing all the headlines – this season it’s been Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj who have taken the majority share of the plaudits and, crucially, that is compounded by the fact that United have been struggling so far. In that context, the aggressive and jubilant nature of his celebration is an understandable reaction to scoring a goal against Arsenal.

Arsenal fans and United fans alike would be mistaken if they believed it was a demonstration of disrespect. It was a demonstration of relief and a response to a tough few months for Robin van Persie and Manchester United. It really had very little to do with Arsenal just as his non-celebration last term probably had very little to do with Arsenal. It was the context that changed.

image: © Doha Stadium Plus

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